The Appalachian mountains are the curves of a woman's body: small, round, withdrawing when not present… the embodiment of this, my third day without a smoke. A half-mile away, the faint sounds of cars sloshing and slurring by are the drawn-out, discordant strikes of industrial piano keys that coo at inopportune times.

Now, for the first time in four years, I genuinely miss my wife.

Here, on the top of deadpan Haystack mountain, I sit and look down into the shallow valley where Cumberland, Maryland lies heavy and fog-ridden. Only the Blue Bridge—a dirty, archaic bridge—is visible now that the clouds have laid their smooth claws into the area; even so, the sky-blue steel bars are barely existent.

I make out a plot of land around it, in West Virginia; a few ramshackle houses overlook the Potomac River. They sit with objectionable unrest. Shingles on their rooftops dangle and split, bend up toward the gold-reflecting clouds of the Western Maryland sunset. Each facade of these river-town houses a different gradient of white siding and locomotive dirt.

With the pen touching blank paper and most importantly, not moving, I understand that by and by, the life of a man scorned is the life best suited for writing. And so, that's what I do here: reprising myself through time alone with a pen. By improving my trade, I thereby improve myself. My friends call it writer's martyrdom; I call it perfection by self-reproach.

To put use to the pen, I begin by thinking of all the things I've never done and by all means, should've by now. I realize that I've never tossed a football. That I've never sang karaoke or been brave enough to curse in public. But most importantly, I remember an idea that's been haunting me since an early age: I've never seen the ocean. In pictures, I've viewed it, of course: waves crashing upon the bright, sandy beaches with bottles of Corona loftily held by attractive women or sun-tanned children building castles like Jimi Hendrix spoke of some thirty years ago. Still, my bare feet have never dug deep into the soft particles, my hair has never smelled of salt. I've never surfed, nor have I made love there.

Depressing as it would seem, now that I remember my own faults, it's a great deal more satisfying to understand why Lindsay left me. But more significantly, in seeing my own transgressions, I realize that when I leave this place—this decrepit, manufacturing city—that my slate would be again blank. But to truly refresh my soul, I would need to loosen it from the bonds of this flawed body.

These flawed hands! I've been writing with these hands! Failing to reach those I wish to speak to.

I've known that there is something that needs done… something like poetic dignity in bodily punishment: death by my own negligence, inexperience; passing through unknown to achieve the even more significant unknown. Heaven, hell, purgatory, eternal rest, nonentity. Each conclusion a possibility, a prospect, an ending to corporeal pain and a beginning of a raw newness. In order to end my life properly, I would begin by walking into the ocean as far as I could.

Of course, I realized that my ideas must be kept secret. A dubious many—friends, family—would prevent me from my task through lecture or perhaps even physical restraint. Nevertheless, any obstacle on this journey could surely be overcome. Right?

I stand up and peer over the cliff I'm standing on—jagged rocks and a few evergreen trees planted diagonally on the way trail off to a place the locals call “the Narrows.” There, a few hundred years ago, a Native American princess fell from the cliffs with her fiancée, an Englishman, as both would be separated had not they died together there.

This somehow implies to me that the simple life is better, that my feet are not capable of the distance of a few hundred miles. And then, to begin walking with no planned direction through these unforgivable forests? That's another story altogether.

Discouraged, I sit again; but, this time, the pen moves. I'll write, I think, and in no time I begin:

“Guilded Sun Mistress,” I write, “if you were simply here, my hand would hang its gauzy, white summer-sheet to dry in your rays—brighter than insanity—but this is winter and my sky shuffles me to the sodden darkness of a basement and I wait for you, frozen.

“(The stove melts the snow clear here and green sparks in my eyes to resemble yours.)

“But heat is thin; there is no solace in other source. Though in spring—the second time I'll see you shining— I'll toss my ax into a pile of dead leaves—my pen will fit into hand. And you—you'll be running, dripping from spider webs, warming wind and second; or you will be on me, quietly asking for the most simple justice: a stare into your eclipse; jealousy of its moon.”

Satisfied, though inadequately, I scribble the best title that comes to me, “Heat Metaphor,” and put the pen down on a damp pile of leaves. I look up. The sun, my muse, has now set over the mountains completely.

Ripping the paper from its small, black notebook, I tuck it into my shirt's chest pocket and stand again on the edge of the cliff. A hard wind passes and I notice the fog that had consumed the city has now gained in strength and crept up the mountainside to my feet. I stand here until night, until my socks are wet, until my legs beat pain in innocuous rhythm.

The wind comes again, slightly, in pace with the moon as it rises. The terrain's tide, I think, and a smile comes against my will.

Then, my body turns, I face the sky and lean backwards, catching myself with hundreds of feet of air above the Narrows. The trees speed to me, the rocks also. Above, my last conscious scene: a break in the gray-navy clouds is filled with darker smoke—a mushroom cloud from Cumberland's last surviving power plant rises into the night. It covers the moon's glow with its murky, resentful smoke.

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